Airport commission approved

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— The City Council and Routt County commissioners decided to take the plunge Tuesday night to create an airport commission that would oversee their airports.

Both governments unanimously agreed to move forward with an intergovernmental agreement that would establish an airport commission, combining the policy setting decisions of the Yampa Valley Regional Airport and the Steamboat Springs Airport into one board. The commission would have more power than the existing Yampa Valley Regional Airport Advisory Board, which makes recommendations only to the county. The airport commission would not have as much power as an authority, which would require both governments to hand over their airports' assets.

"If we move ahead with this, we are taking a leap of faith that this thing will work," County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak. "If it doesn't work, it doesn't work."

For almost a year, a focus group has been meeting to work out an airport agreement between the two entities.

City Council President Kathy Connell said that with the stresses of attracting airlines to Northwest Colorado and long-term improvement projects to the airports -- such as upgrading the YVRA terminal -- a board should have the sole responsibility of overseeing them.

"It is really something local elected officials should not be dabbling in," Connell said.

The proposal is for the airport commission to come up with budgets for the city and county to approve and create short- to long-range capital improvement plans. The commission would be accountable to the city and county, and the commission would direct the YVRA director and the Steamboat Springs Airport director.

The commission would not buy or sell land, borrow or lend money, hire or fire personnel, commit funds not budgeted or transfer funds, personnel or equipment from one airport to another.

With two failed airport authorities in the past, some council members moved forward with caution. They had concerns the airport directors would be serving two different masters, wanted a wider representation on the commission and had questions on how the two governments would fund the airports.

"I don't now if skeptical is the right word," Councilman Bud Romberg said. "But it is the respect for the people (who worked on the agreement) that lead me to vote in favor of it."

Romberg and fellow Councilman Paul Strong were concerned about the potential for conflict with the airport directors, who are under the supervision of both the airport commission and their governments.

"When you look at this, does it create a conflict for who they are working for?" Romberg asked.

Strong and Councilman Steve Ivancie also expressed concern that a Routt County resident -- who may not meet certain criteria -- wouldn't be eligible to be on the airport commission.

The proposal was for a nine-member board with a Routt County commissioner, a City Council member, a Ski Corp. official, a representative from the Hayden Town Board, a resident from Craig or Moffat County appointed by their council and commissioners, a Routt County business person, a Routt County business person selected by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association and two people from the aviation community.

Stahoviak said the focus group came up with these qualifications to ensure members had some sort of expertise, but Strong suggested in order to find the most qualified experts they open the field to everyone.

"When we accept applications, we take the applicant with the best experience," Strong said.

The council and commissioners decided to change the position of a Routt County business person and open it to any Routt County resident.

The city and county had been looking at an airport authority, but Stahoviak said some people in the focus group were not ready to turn over the airports' assets. An authority also could have raised taxes and given the airports a dedicated funding source -- another step City Manager Paul Hughes said no one was ready to take.

"Funding right now is no different than with city or county departments," Hughes said. "They come up with recommendations and come before the boards. There is a big leap between that and a dedicated funding source. I don't think anybody felt this was the right time to go that far."

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